Covid-19 has forced hundreds of students to sacrifice their schooling in order to seek employment and help support their families, and one head girl says the situation is only getting worse.
It was confirmed last week that roughly 200 students at New Zealand’s largest decile one school, Manurewa High School, hadn’t returned to the classroom after lockdown in order to help their families financially.
The school’s principal Peter Jones said it was a “harsh reality” of the first lockdown.
Head girl at South Auckland's Aorere College, Aigagalefili Fepulea’i-Tapua’i, has written about this reality on social media, and this morning she shared her experience on TVNZ1’s Breakfast.
She said she knows many students who have had to leave school for that reason.
“After the lockdown had finished there was a great sense in the media that we were celebrating, we were healing and we were moving on.
“But for me and my peers that wasn’t necessarily the case. A lot of the struggles we had faced during Covid were not reflected and so there was almost a sense or feeling that we were being forgotten.”
The head girl said there was a “great sense of fear and uncertainty” for her and her peers heading back to school after lockdown.
“A lot of people had been working during the lockdown and had now come back and some of these people were forced to leave school.
“I’d be sitting in class and I’d watch someone walk in and give the teacher their leavers notice, and the teacher would say something like good luck and it was this feeling of everyone knowing what was happening and not quite sure what to do."
Ms Fepulea’i-Tapua’i said the issues of education inequality had existed prior to the pandemic, but the virus had just placed a “magnifying glass” on them.
"There was a big misconception that there was a choice, that you always have a choice to stay at school. It’s put a magnifying glass on a lot of the systemic issues that we’ve been facing as a community for a very long time.
"Whether that’s the cycle of poverty within our communities, whether that’s lack of resources because of educational inequality - a lot of these things have a really big part to play in a lot of what we are seeing because of Covid-19."
With family being the focal point of life for many, she said children are often forced to make sacrifices to make ends meet.
"Before Covid-19, all it could take for a student to realise that their family was struggling was just one medical emergency or maybe just one parent being laid off, but now we're getting a lot more of these type of cases. It is the biggest act of sacrifice and love."
"No child wants to watch their parent have to struggle when they know they could do something and I think that is the situation for a lot of students."